If you are stuck on the client service hamster wheel of doom and have no time to think let alone plan for the future, then this episode is for you.
If you are thinking "I don’t have enough time to focus on the future of my agency because I am too busy servicing clients” then I want to help you out.
[00:57] The consequences of being in ‘client service mode’ all the time
[01:40] Serving clients is in your comfort zone but that keeps you away from other crucial areas
[02:22] Effects of over-servicing clients
[03:08] Differentiating yourself based on pricing or promised service levels becomes a race to the bottom
[03:50] Running a high service-level agency
[04:40] How much should you be willing to over-service clients by?
[05:09] Building strong boundaries with your clients
[05:22] Get your boundaries right from the start
[05:47] How to say YES and NO to clients
[07:06] How to reset expectations with clients
[07:49] Ways to structure your week to maximise focus and efficiency
[08:54] Blocking out time in your diary and making it happen!
[09:45] Challenging your mindset and beliefs
[10:17] When should you hire additional resources?
[11:48] Being resilient and in control
“In the early days, we naturally gravitate to what we're good at, which is usually servicing clients but if you avoid other crucial areas, you are heading for an iceberg.” - Rob Da Costa
“Going the extra mile is not a great value or USP and is not the way to differentiate yourself from the competitors.” - Rob Da Costa
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Can you relate to this? You'll run ragged, lurching from client to client, trying to keep them happy, stuck on the client service Hamster Wheel of Doom. And this gives you no time to focus on the future of your agency. (i.e. your strategy, your marketing, your systems and so on) And this leads to a feeling of stress in your agency and, ultimately, burnout. I've certainly been there, and I'm sure it's happened to you or it's happening to you currently. So, I want to dig into this topic today and start answering the question of: “I don't have enough time to focus on my agency because I'm too busy servicing clients.” So, that's what we're talking about in today's episode and let's get on with the show.
I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started growing and selling my agency and just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life. So, this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing mine and my guests’ experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable and enjoyable business.
“I know I should be allocating time to working on my agency's future direction, but I'm just too busy servicing clients to have the headspace to do this.” Well, this is what I hear all the time, and this is the stated reason. Or, if I'm being less charitable, the excuse that many agency owners give when they are trying to justify why they spend so little time working on the future of their agency. Yet, we all know if this situation persists, then the agency is going to take one step forward and one step back, and ultimately they won't feel in control of their business. And this leads to stress and burnout.
There's a whole multitude of reasons why this scenario occurs in so many agencies, especially in the early days. So, let's just dig into a couple of them.
First of all, servicing clients is your specialism. This is in your comfort zone, and I think this is especially true in your agency in the early days. You have been servicing clients, probably in a previous job, and you are good at doing that. And you know that there are some areas that you need to focus on, but they might feel a little alien to you. So, of course, we naturally gravitate to what we're good at and, in this case, that’s servicing clients. So, we often try and avoid some of those other areas that we need to get better at, such as putting a marketing system in place doing yourselves, and so on. And then, we wrap all of this up by justifying to ourselves that we need to do an amazing job for clients. And that's why we're spending 99% of our time doing that.
Talking of which, another issue that causes this scenario to happen is over-servicing clients because we're running this belief that if we don't say ‘Yes’ to our clients, and they will fire us, which is a crazy thing to say when you say it out loud. But it is what a lot of people think, and that thinking leads to a behaviour of trying to constantly please our clients, no matter what their request is. After all, we are just happy that they chose to work with our agency in the first place.
Now, look, I know that we all want to do a great job for your clients as much as I want to do a great job for my clients. And some agencies even say, as part of their values that they published on their website and so on, that they “go the extra mile”, which, incidentally, is not a great value. And it is not a great way of trying to differentiate yourself.
So, here's a little hint about this. If you differentiate yourself based on price (i.e. by being cheaper than everybody else) or service levels (i.e. going the extra mile), then it becomes a race to the bottom, and it becomes an agency that is stressed and unprofitable. Especially, if you combine those two because you cannot be a high-touch service level agency with a low price. That is the absolute opposite alignment that you should be working towards. So, if you choose to be the cheapest, which often looks like an online kind of agency such as a Canva, for example, then your service levels need to be in line with this. (i.e. very low) Think about the service level you get from Canberra, it's pretty much zero.
On the other hand, if you choose to be a high-touch service agency, which is fine, then your pricing needs to be aligned to this and to be high. So, if you're running this belief that you need to provide high levels of service to clients and go the extra mile, but you're not charging for this, then ask yourself what happens when the extra mile becomes the extra two miles and the extra two miles become the extra three?
When the client says, “Hey, can you just do this?” And of course, they think it's a trivial activity, but you know full well that it isn't. Suddenly, all of that time that you allocated to working on your business (i.e. your marketing, your sales, your planning, your finance, your systems, and so on) gets swallowed up by going the extra three miles for your client. So, my advice is to be willing to flex by plus or minus 10% because you can probably win this back in future months. But when it becomes much more than that, or it's consistently that, then you need to address the situation. Otherwise, you are training your client to expect these continued high levels of service without paying you extra. And of course, that takes you away from looking at the future of your agency.
So, we need to develop better boundaries with our clients. So, let me share with you a couple of ideas that I've shared in the past, but I think they're worth sharing again in order to overcome this very familiar challenge.
So, number one, we need to get it right from the start. This is the best time to get good boundaries with your clients when you first meet them because it's much easier to get it right and keep it at that level than it is to pull it back at a future point. So, this is where you agree on the scope of work and why having a clear scope of work is so important because it means that the client and you are both really clear about what's included in the service that they're paying for and, most importantly, what isn't included. And then, of course, when they ask for things that are outside of the scope of work, it becomes so much easier for you to ask for additional fees or deal with it another way, which I'll come on to in a moment.
So number two, now my second tip is to have a different way of saying ‘Yes’. So, this sort of follows on from the scope of work because now you've got that clear scope of work. You have a framework to measure new requests by. In other words, if a client asks you to do something outside of the scope of work, you've now got five responses that you can give
Number one, “Yes, we can do that.” If you feel that it's plus 10% outside of the scope, that's fine.
Secondly, you can say, “Yes, we can do that, but we need to swap something else that we've agreed to do out.” That should be a perfectly reasonable conversation since they understand what's included.
Thirdly, you can say, “Yes, we can do that, but we can't do it till this future date”. So, and then you can plan accordingly.
And then four you can say, “Yes, we can do that, but there will be an additional charge.”
I said that there are five responses, and the fifth one is about saying ‘No’ to a client, and this is where you politely decline the additional work if you can't use one of the above four options. It's really important to say that we are allowed to say ‘No’ or to push back on our clients, and not fear that the world will fall apart. This is where you really need to challenge your beliefs and what the stories you tell yourself in your head because you can say ‘No; to a client. And if you do it in the right way, they will respect you for that if you explain the why.
The fourth tip I've got for you is about resetting expectations because so this is a situation where you've had a client for a while, they've got really used to the over-servicing levels, and now you need to reset their expectations. And the best way to do that is in a quarterly planning meeting, which you should be doing with your client. So, if you're not, I would highly suggest you start doing quarterly planning meetings with your client, where you can revisit the scope of work. You can revisit the fee and you set the plans out for the next three months, and if you've been over-servicing them previously. Now is a great time to reset those expectations.
Okay, so that's four tips or four strategies for dealing with over-servicing. But let me give you some more thoughts on the way I think you should be structuring your week and how I structure my week. Remember this year I'm on a mission to practise what I teach. So, everything I'm showing with you in this podcast and all my other podcasts are things that I actually do in my business. And there are things that I get my clients to implement as well.
So, first of all, you need to see your strategy time that's working on the future of your agency. So, that includes marketing, sales, systems and processes, and planning as the most important thing that you do in your week and not the least important thing that gets shelved the minute a client asks you to jump. If you've got the mindset that strategy time is the most important time in your agency, then you'll be much more able to protect this time.
Obviously, the one caveat about this is that this time the strategy time can't account for 80% of your week, but it certainly should account for sort of 20 to 30% of your week. And that means that you have 70 to 80% of your time to allocate to other things such as client work, which is pretty reasonable. So, you want to block out this strategy time in your diary. An important tip here is to always make sure you know exactly what you're going to do in that strategy time slot. Not knowing what you're going to do and just arriving at that time slot is a surefire way of not doing it and thinking you've got more important things to do. So, once you've blocked out this strategy time and you've planned what you're gonna do, you need to treat it in the same protected way that I hope you treat working in the evenings or working at the weekends because I really hope that you protect that time for life outside of your agency. Then, if not, this is a discussion for a future podcast episode.
And I want you to protect that time in the same way as you protect your evenings and weekends. So, once this time is blocked out. You can now slot your client work around it. Having this right mindset around what time is available for client work is one of the core ways are starting to get the balance right.
Okay, I just want to have a quick time out here, because if you're listening to what I've just said and you're thinking “Rob, you don't really understand me. There is no way I can do what you're suggesting.” Well, I really want to call you out, because, of course, there are ways that you can go about doing this, but it may be that you're just not willing to do so because you're running these beliefs around how your clients will react to this.
Now also, if you're thinking well, “Actually, Rob, I don't over-service my clients, but I'm still up to my neck in client work.” Then, this is a really good indicator that you should be recruiting additional resources, whether that be in-house staff, remote workers, part-timers or freelancers.
We want to make sure that we are focusing on our superpower, you know, the things that you are really good at doing that no one else can do. And for the agency owner, that is going to be leading your agency forward and plotting your strategy. Yes, of course, you can do client work brilliantly, and you're probably doing it better than everybody else, but this isn't really your superpower now.
Another thing that we need to acknowledge is that a lot of us need to step outside of our comfort zones in order to focus on strategy. Now, no one ever said that planning for the future is easy or finding the right marketing strategies that genuinely deliver quality leads is simple. But the question is, if you're not doing these things, then who is? And if the answer is nobody, then not only are you going to be stuck on the client service hamster Wheel of Doom, but your business will slowly shrink. Now, this is not a great place to be.
So, in summary, block out time for strategy, and then know how much time around that you have for client work. And once you've onboarded a new client, ensure that you get good boundaries with them so that you are not over-servicing anymore than plus or minus 10%, and then use the rest of your time to focus on strategy. (i.e. the future of your agency)
If you do this, then you're going to feel in control. And your agency is going to be a lot more resilient when the world throws curveballs your way. Which, of course, you know that is going to happen at some point.
Now, I could talk about this topic for hours, and I know that I will be revisiting it in the future. So, here seems like a good point to stop and get you to think about some of the ideas that I've shared so that you can start putting them into practise.
Now as ever, I hope you found this episode useful. This is a conversation that I frequently have in my self-running agency membership. And obviously, in this podcast, I have a limited amount of time to really dig into these topics, but I hope this has given you some food for thought and a few ideas of changes that you can start making today.
Now, if you want to learn more about protecting your time and time management generally, then download my free guide on winning back time, where I dig into some of these ideas in more detail, and I'll put a link to that free guide in the show notes. But other than that, I hope you found today useful, please do consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts because, as you know, it helps the algorithms show the podcast to more people, which means I can impact more people just like you.
Have a great rest of your week and I will see you next week in the next episode of The Agency Accelerator Podcast.